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Working with Congress

Dr. Marie Bernard
Marie A. BERNARD [Former NIA Staff],
Deputy Director,
Office of the Director (OD)

The NIA recently hired someone new, Melinda Kelley, to help us work with Congress, outside groups, and others who would like to interact with NIA leadership. The person who previously filled this role, the wonderful Tamara Jones, retired at the beginning of the year.

Government agencies like the NIA must have a point of contact for Members of Congress and their staff. Legislation, including appropriations, affects all aspects of biomedical research. We communicate with Congress about programs and policies, providing information about new initiatives and developments in research. We also provide technical assistance when requested. This is not the responsibility of NIA alone: researchers all over the country are a powerful voice helping Congress understand the value of medical research to its constituents.

We work closely with patient advocacy groups and professional organizations, including the Friends of the NIA and others. These valuable partnerships clarify and amplify messages about biomedical research and funding. A key part of Melinda’s role is advancing our partnerships with these important organizations.

How does NIA work with Congress?

We testify in front of Congress.

When invited to testify at a Congressional Committee Hearing, we prepare written testimony for the record, as well as oral testimony, and responses to likely questions. The February 26, 2014, appearance by NIH Director Francis Collins, joined by NIA Director Richard Hodes and others, testifying before the Senate Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations Subcommittee on the impact of Alzheimer’s disease is one example. (Watch the videocast of this testimony.)

We respond to requests for information.

From time to time, members of Congress, or their staff, or Congressional committee staff request information from us. They might ask as background for legislation or hearings or they might request a more formal report on a disease or a broad area of research.

You can read more about how the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responds to congressional requests for information. NIH is a part of HHS.

We participate in events with Congress.

We meet with members of Congress and their staff at non-hearing events and visits, when invited by members and organizations. For example, on August 5, 2013, 11 congressional staff members visited an NIA lab.

So, now, please welcome Melinda Kelley.

Headshot of Melinda Kelley. She wears eyeglasses with a red frame with a colorful scarf at her neck.Melinda will lead the NIA Office of Legislation, Policy, and International Activities, serving as the liaison for legislative affairs and supporting relationships with partners and groups. Melinda joins us from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at NIH, where she served as a Policy Analyst for the We Can! health education program. Prior to that, she was with the Office of Science Policy and Planning at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at NIH and previously, Director of Research and Education for the Paralyzed Veterans of America. She received her PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Virginia.

Melinda’s experience will be very helpful in our working with Congress. This work is challenging, and it can require very complicated coordination. The turnaround can be very quick and outside the standard workday. Melinda will also help us work even more closely with valued partners—associations of medical professionals or patients, research advocates, and other organizations. These partners are sometimes our connection to Congress, starting and sustaining important conversations.

Melinda will be counting on all of you in the research community. The most compelling stories about the work we support and the people we benefit come from you, in Congressional districts all over the country. Your scientific breakthroughs, and your struggles in maintaining productive laboratories, are of great interest to the members of Congress that represent your area. We will work with you to educate, inform, and respond when Congress calls.

Have I answered all of your questions about how the NIA works with Congress? Get in touch with me, and with Melinda, by commenting below.

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